Turner Sports (see: B/R), ESPN and Barstool Sports were the Top 3 sports media publishers across social platforms (in the U.S.) during the month of March – based on Shareablee actions (think: reactions, comments, shares, retweets & likes) – with 439.1 million, 250.7 million and 87.4 million, respectively; the only other publisher to record more than 33 million actions during the month was Wave Sports Media with 50.1 million. Less than 2 years old, Wave has positioned itself to become the “alternative to TV consumption for the next generation of fans.” CEO Brian Verne insists that the 18-34-year-old demo (and younger) “isn’t watching television and they’re not going to destination websites – 85% to 95%” of the sports content they consume is on social – so unlike B/R ESPN and Barstool, Wave does not have a “native app or native website.” Instead, the company has built a following distributing content and programming across platforms where the fan already resides. Wave has an audience of 150 million millennial (20%) and Gen-Z (80%) fans (monthly) across 120+ Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat channels.
Howie Long-Short: Wave Sports Media was created under the pretense that traditional “one to many” sports media entities are inherently ill-equipped to “develop communities and build audiences on platforms where fans already live.” CEO Brian Verne explained that “the way the millennial and Gen-Z fan watches and discusses sports is very different than previous generations. They’re not tuning in for the game at a given time. They’re constantly viewing short-form snackable content across various social platforms where they feel like they’re part of a community [because of social media’s many to many nature] – even if that community is several million people.”
Snackable doesn’t necessarily mean highlights. Sure, Wave has a “curated highlight component just to stay relevant in the space and cater to the fan’s motivations, but on any given day – particularly on IGTV and SNAP – you’ll see personality driven original programming featuring some of the top athletes in the world.”
Where content is disseminated is important for gaining Shareablee actions (if a tree falls in the forest…) and the type of content generated certainly matters as well (BTS footage will perform better than analysis), but so too does the delivery. Verne insists that the millennial or Gen-Z fan does not want to hear from “broadcasting personalities”, that “they prefer to hear from one of their peers.” That’s the logic behind Wave’s decentralized newsroom – the byproduct of which has been some “really authentic, relatable content that has resonated with this consumer base.”
Changing consumer behavior posts an inherent risk to a company building on top of 3rd party platforms that can quickly trend in and out of favor with young people, but SVP strategy & partnerships Greg Bobolo is convinced it’s the way to “build the foundation for a sports media enterprise for the next generation – and if you build a strong enough brand, it’s going to succeed over time no matter what platform they’re on.” Of course, it’s those same changing behaviors that have provided Wave with the opportunity to “drive tune in to the leagues and rights holders struggling to get young fans to actually watch the game.”
Fan Marino: Hearing the business model is contingent upon creator submissions had me concerned that Wave might be following in the footsteps of SB Nation (and their questionable labor practices), but there appears to be a real monetary incentive for creators – athletes and fans alike – in addition to any educational or professional experience gained here. While I’m not authorized to disclose the exact figure or OPEX, I can say that the company is investing 7-figures annually in emerging talent and creating full-time employment opportunities for top performers. Verne added “history only repeats itself if you let it, and we’re taking a rising-tides mindset to building the business.”
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